Bob Gilling

Bob Gilling attended the first Breeders Festival staged at Northaw in 1969. The following year, he accepted an invitation to serve on the committee of the British Breeders Forum. Only Tuesday he announced he is to step down in his 50th year of continuous service – writes Floyd Amphlett.

The Breeders Forum was a new organisation set up Dr Dick Handley, who sadly took his own life a year later.

Bob said: “In those days the general feeling was that British breeding was inferior to Irish breeding and we wanted to prove them wrong.

“After Dick Headley died, David Poulter agreed to take over as chairman and became treasurer. I have now served under eight chairmen, either as secretary, treasurer, or both.”

Over the years, the (British) Greyhound Breeders Forum has been responsible for many innovations and initiatives to encourage British breeders.

In addition to events like the Produce Stakes, Breeders Forum Stakes, breeder’s bonuses, the most group’s most visible contribution was the Breeders Festival which took place every September.

Apart from being a traditional dog show where pups and saplings were judged on looks and confirmation, there were various classes for brood bitches.

Nick and Natalie (centre) Savva with saplings at an early Breeders Festival at Northaw – circa 1970

The highlight was invariably the parade of stud dogs where enthusiasts could get up close and personal with the canine stars.

(Rather like the young Harry Paxton featured this week meeting King Elvis, this writer, as a 12 year old, can clearly remember taking the opportunity to stroke his hero, Joe Booth’s recently crowned Laurels champion Cricket Bunny)

The festival found many homes after Northaw: Harringay, Pickets Lock, Crayford, Milton Keynes and Harlow. All were run by a committee under the direction of Bob Gilling.

Bob said: “As breeding fell so did the numbers being entered for the classes. In the end it wasn’t worth carrying on.”

Bob continued to breed and train at Reading and had decent success, winning the Oaks with Skelligs Smurf and being beaten a short head in the Pall Mall. A rare defeat for a dog who won 58 opens.

The festival during its spell at Harlow

Bob also served as a director on the British Greyhound Racing Board alongside John Haynes (trainers) and Stuart Lock-Harte (owners).

He said: “I remember saying to Georffrey Thomas, who was the CEO at the time, ‘you need to give us money to encourage British breeders’. He replied, ‘and when are you going to give us a British bred Derby winner?’

“Two years later I was invited onto the track at Wimbledon for Westmead Hawk’s Derby win and waved to Geoffrey who was in the grandstand. In fact, Nick won three Derbys in a row with Westmead Lord winning the third.”

Bob has seen the breeding landscape change dramatically and although there is still one British bred litter for every ten Irish, the successes have been significant.

He said: “Obviously the Westmeads have played a major part in that and it is great that the influence has been felt in Irish breeding too. Phantom Flash was a very successful sire in Ireland, most notably through Spiral Nikita.

“Perhaps even more so was Staplers Jo (bred by Gerry Becket), the sire of Larkhill Jo, from whom we got Droopys Kewell and Droopys Scolari.

“Staplers was also the most influential sire of brood bitches and one year all six runners in the Irish Derby Final had Staplers Jo breeding.”

Bob continues to remain interested in racing – as does former Breeders Forum colleague George Gundry-White who still enjoys a punt at 98!

He said: “I still love it. I buy the Racing Post and watch RPGTV. I always will.”

It is 75 years since the 14 year old Bob Gilling watched his first race at Hendon. Thousands of hours of selfless sacrifice later, his contribution to British breeding is beyond measure.


Proudly posing the English Derby trophy (right) – this original trophy was replaced with the more familiar version in the mid-1970s.



That should be the end of the story, but as our chat came to an end, Bob came up with the following pearl of a tale. . .

“Many years ago, I was looking for some help in the kennels and a lady got in touch to say she would love to work with the dogs, but there was a problem. She had a four year old who hadn’t yet started school. Could she bring her along to the kennel?

“I told her there was no problem and the little girl loved being around the dogs.

“One day I received a call from Bert White, who owned Dolores Rocket (a Surrey born and reared English Derby winner but registered in the Irish Stud Book). He promised to bring along her trophies, including her Derby trophy, to the kennel so I could take them to the festival.

“I said to the little girl, ‘would you like to touch the Derby trophy? You may never get the chance again. But it turns out I was wrong. . . “

. . . .and here she is again – about to renew acquaintances with a Derby trophy . . . . Donna Witchalls acknowledges the crowd’s cheers as she leads Derby winner Dorotas Wildcat to the podium. Towcester 2nd June 2018. Photo: © Steve Nash